Moving Toward the Next Kuiper Belt Target
New Horizons and its trajectory toward its next Kuiper Belt object of study. Courtesy NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute
Today we got another green light signal from the New Horizons spacecraft. It’s on the way to its second target in the Kuiper Belt, an odd little place called Ultima Thule. A green light means all the boards are good, the mission is still a “go” and the spacecraft is doing its thing.
Kuiper Belt History
Back when I was in graduate school (SO last century!) the Kuiper Belt was just really beginning to be observed by such astronomers as David Jewitt, colleague Jane Luu, self-described “Pluto Killer” Mike Brown, and many others. It was given the name Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt after two planetary astronomers Ken Edgeworth and Gerard Kuiper. They theorized the existence of a region in the outer solar system populated by “leftovers” such as ice-rock worlds and cometary nuclei. In 1987, Jewitt and Luu began looking for such objects and began finding them.
Since that time, others have been found, dubbed KBOs (for “Kuiper Belt Objects”), “Kuiperoids” and “trans-Neptunian Objects”. It happens to be home of Pluto, as well ...